To open up the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to democratic participation, they invited Germans to contribute to their policy on digital society, which would become part of their federal election platform, via the internet.
Problems and Purpose
As part of an effort to open Social Democracy in Germany for more participation, the federal party invited the internet public to co-write part of their basic statement on Digital Society in order to encourage citizen feedback and participation. Through the Internet, the party allowed anyone from the public to discuss and contribute to the party's basic statement on digital society. The results would become part of the party platform, subject to approval through the Federal Congress of SPD.
Background History and Context
Know what events led up to this initiative? Help us complete this section!
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Within the SPD, it was above all the party leadership and its employees, more specifically the media commission and the news desk of the executive committee, who developed and supported online participation. The software "Adhocracy" was used for the process and adapted to the individual needs. In addition, there was community management and moderation from external sources, so that the process could be managed according to one's own ideas. The processing and presentation of the results was also determined by the party leadership. Delegates to the federal party congress in December 2011 were then able to vote on the lead proposal developed, even if they were not previously involved in the online process.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participation in the participation process was basically open to everyone, including non-members of the SPD. Reading and following the process was publicly available, but registration was necessary for active participation. This could be done with real names or anonymously and with indication of party affiliation or without. The declared aim was above all to involve politically interested people who are rather younger and who do not want to be tied to an organization in terms of time or content. In addition, a topic of network policy (work and economy in the digital society) was chosen in order to mobilize the group of network-savvy users. A total of 408 participants registered, of which only just under a third actively participated in terms of writing or voting for contributions. Specifically, there have been 77 proposals, 222 comments, and 326 votes that relate to the key questions. A total of 509 comments and 1214 votes were then recorded. There was almost no collaborative work on content; this was only observed in four cases.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The basic idea of participation was the joint creation of the overarching key proposal on “Work and Economy in the Digital Society” that the party executive wanted to bring to a vote at the federal party congress. In the first phase (August 4 — September 13, 2011), comments and contributions on the party's positioning on the topic and on six predefined key questions could be created. Subsequently, in a second phase (13.9. — 19.9.2011) proposals selected by the community management could be voted on. At a federal party conference in December 2011, the key proposals generated from the online process were presented to the delegates for voting.
The SPD provided information about the opportunities for participation primarily on its own platforms and via its own media, however, it did not reach a wider public, even among its own members. Overall, there was little knowledge about the possibility of participation. Information was provided about the development of the process and this was transparently visible, but it was not communicated according to which exact criteria and factors the results were evaluating and recording. For example, some contributions have been declared thematically unsuitable or have not been included in the policy platform, although a recognizable majority voted in favour.
Influence, Outcomes and Effects
Of the 33 proposals considered to be thematically appropriate, 19 were taken into account for the formulation of the platform. Changes and abstractions are justified by thematic decisions and by formal aspects such as the text of an application platform. At the party congress, the entire key proposal was then put to a vote with a recommendation from the party executive committee and ultimately also accepted unanimously. Surveys at the event showed that a clear majority of the delegates (78.5%) were not aware of the new procedure beforehand, and most of them did not consider it to be more important than applications made in the traditional way. Overall, it must be stated that the party still had a high degree of control, and that this had a very strong influence on the results. In addition, a key proposal with rather abstract statements and goals has little concrete binding force for future decisions by the party, delegates or members of parliament. The document should be interpreted more as a guideline and orientation aid for the party political line than as concrete policy demands.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The party management and initiators of the process clearly retained control over the process and the evaluation and thus still had a high degree of influence. This can also be referred to as a “top down” approach. The leeway granted to decide what could be discussed and what decisions could be made was very small overall. For example, the online community could no longer vote on the final proposal; this was only allowed for the delegates of the party congress. In addition, not every step of the control and evaluation was transparently traceable, which can cause difficulties in accepting the results. In addition, participation was ultimately low; this was a typical picture of participation rates in the political area that is also known from other initiatives. The public and internal party awareness was also low and could not show any major successes.
Overall, despite the expandable opportunities for participants, there was an opening in the structures of the SPD for contributions from members of the grassroots and non-members who, if they wanted, could even remain anonymous. It is now interesting how the development and the comparison with newer platforms and possibilities of the SPD from the more recent years turn out. For example, there were opportunities to participate in the election manifesto from the 2013 Bundestag election campaign. To what extent things have changed or remained the same and whether there has been a further opening towards the decision-making options of the participants would be interesting to analyze.
 Hanel, Katharina & Marschall, Stefan. (2012). “Die Nutzung kollaborativer Online-Plattformen durch Parteien: „Top down“ oder „bottom up“?" In Fröhlich, Manuel; Korte, Karl-Rudolf, Stefan A., Hans (ed.), Journal of Political Science. 1st edition. Baden-Baden: Nomod. p.15.
 Hanel, Katharina & Marschall, Stefan. (2012). “Die Nutzung kollaborativer Online-Plattformen durch Parteien: „Top down“ oder „bottom up“?" p. 18 f.
 Hanel, Marschall 2012, p.22
 SPD. Article on SPD Website
Evaluating e-Participation: Frameworks, Practice, Evidence: https://bit.ly/2X33js9